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News & Media > Alumnae Awards > 2021 Alumnae Award Recipients > Sandra Bates AM (1955)

Sandra Bates AM (1955)

2021 Alumnae Award for Cultural Contribution
Sandra Bates AM (1955)
Sandra Bates AM (1955)

Sandra Bates (Ross, 1955) was the Governing and Artistic Director of the Ensemble Theatre, Australia’s longest, continuously running professional theatre company, for 30 years from 1986 to 2017. Under her stewardship, the Ensemble grew to one of the world’s most respected playhouses. During her tenure, Sandra directed more than 100 plays and actively encouraged Australian content. She is renowned as the longest serving Artistic Director in Australia.

Sandra Ross (1955) was a Boarder at MLC School with her sisters Jane Sherrard (Ross, 1959) and Dr Susan Beal (Ross, 1952) and like her sisters, she was an all-rounder at School. She was a Senior Prefect, a (Boarding) House Prefect, and was active in all sports and arts activities. Sandra says the annual Shakespeare Days at MLC School ignited her passion for theatre.

After her Leaving Certificate in 1955, Sandra qualified as a Speech and Drama teacher under the tuition of MLC School’s Joyce Forman. She then went on to complete a Pharmacy Degree at the University of Sydney.

In 1968, Sandra commenced a theatrical course with the Ensemble Theatre founder, Hayes Gordon. In 1983, she became the founding Artistic Director of the Ensemble Studios Repertory Theatre, and in 1986, she was appointed the Artistic and Governing Director of the Ensemble Theatre. Sandra’s appointment was described in the 2005 Australian Government publication It’s An Honour as the 'birth of a new Australian star.'

In 2001, Sandra received a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for her services to theatre and the performing arts. At the time she said ‘I’ve been hugely privileged to do something that I simply love doing. I believe that if you are truly passionate about what you do, you’ll succeed.’ She was awarded the Variety Club Heart Award for Theatre in 2002. In 2004 she was awarded the Hayes Gordon Memorial Glugs Theatre Award for Outstanding Contribution to Theatre. In 2007 the Sydney Theatre Critics presented Sandra with The Lifetime Achievement Award.

In a tribute to Sandra, playwright David Williamson AO wrote that Sandra is ‘a powerhouse. She has unbounded energy and enthusiasm and a theatrical intellect as sharp as any I’ve encountered. Sandra goes straight to the emotional heart of a play she directs.’

The Ensemble Theatre introduced the Sandra Bates Director’s Awards on her retirement from the theatre in 2017 – where two recipients each year are sponsored to be Assistant Director on two mainstage productions – fostering and mentoring the next generation of theatre directors as a legacy in Sandra’s name to her extraordinary career. 

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